Tuesday night’s victory at the Macron Stadium, which left Chris Wilder’s team third in the Championship table and only two points behind first-placed Leeds, proved the character which propelled them to last season’s League One title remains intact despite another busy transfer window.
And, with debutant Cameron Carter-Vickers scoring the only goal of the game midway through the opening period, underlined the importance of the loan market.
The centre-half, who may or may not play against Norwich City tomorrow, is scheduled to spend the rest of the season at Bramall Lane after leaving Spurs. With football experiencing the type of hyperinflation which would make a Venezuelan banker wince, brokering temporary agreements with top-flight clubs enables teams like United to acquire talent which might otherwise be beyond their reach.
It is a tactic Wilder, who together with his assistant Alan Knill and head of recruitment Paul Mitchell, could employ again in January.
Nevertheless, they must strike a balance between strengthening the squad and ensuring home-grown players do not find their route into the starting eleven blocked by folk who, at the end of the campaign, will return whence they came.
So I’m delighted a deal for Jerome Sinclair, the Watford centre-forward, collapsed on deadline day. Wilder, who has barely put a foot wrong when it comes to recruitment, clearly had no concerns about the 20-year-old’s character after inviting him to move north. The same can not be said of his agent but that is a different story.
No, the reason United’s failure to sign Sinclair should be celebrated is because it means David Brooks should benefit from greater opportunities. With Caolan Lavery ruled-out of the meeting with City and Clayton Donaldson nursing a hamstring complaint, the temptation would have been to select Sinclair if, had his switch been processed, coaching staff wanted to inject some pace into United’s attack. Brooks, arguably the most exciting talent to emerge from the Steelphalt Academy in recent seasons, is capable of bringing this to the team.
Yes, the Wales under-21 international might still be raw. Yes, he might still be learning his position. But with United understandably reluctant to change the 3-5-2 system which has served them so well for the majority of Wilder’s reign, Brooks’ most obvious route into the starting eleven is, right now, alongside Billy Sharp in a central role.
With Premier League scouts already monitoring his progress, United know they must increase his game-time between now and the end of the season. Sinclair’s arrival would have made this more difficult.